Friday, February 21, 2014

Spectacular Rally at Brigade Echoes Peoples’ Anger

Left Challenges Authoritarianism

By Debasish Chakraborty

AS the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata turned into a sea of humanity, splashed with crimson red all over, roaring slogans reverberated in every street leading to the ground, even the Ganges became red with streams of boats carrying hundreds of people, the question emerged, how this ‘miracle’ was made possible.

Even the staunch anti-Left media was forced to admit that the Left Front rally on 9th February not only surpassed in its size and spirit the two earlier rallies in the same ground in the last ten days but also was the largest the city had seen in at least two decades. This has happened despite terrorisation, life-threats, obstacles created by the ruling party in every step. This was not a usual rally; it was the defiance of an authoritarian regime, an outburst of anger, a collective determination to break through darkness. Spring has just started to bloom in flora and fauna of Bengal, the rally was a festival of courage.

It was not ‘miracle’, it simply proved, once again, how deep the roots of the Left are in the society of Bengal.

Many came from terror-stricken areas in unique ways, escaping the vulture eyes of the goons of the ruling party. Some, from East and West Medinipore districts started a day earlier, individually and then met somewhere to march to Brigade. From Bengal-Jharkhand border areas, the people came without any external sign that they were moving towards Kolkata. On the day of the rally, buses carrying people were forcibly stopped in many areas in Burdwan. The people either chased the hoodlums or just shifted their journey through trains to finally reach the rally ground. Stories of distinctive methods and bravery were abundant. These struggling people gathered more confidence, more courage to fight back the evil forces that have gripped not only the political power but also the socio-cultural fabric of Bengal.

On 30th January, Trinamool Congress held the rally at the same venue where Mamata Banerjee avoided all important issues of the state and gave a call of “Delhi Chalo”, without any clarity with whom she wanted to go with. Five days later, Narendra Modi held his first public meeting in the same place and proposed the formulation of “Mamata in Bengal, Modi in Delhi”. The political message was not that secret: tacit understanding between BJP and TMC was in the offing. On 9th February, Left Front leaders clearly gave a call of a government at the centre which would be based on alternative policies.

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat strongly criticised the UPA-2 government which came to power in 2009 with Mamata Banerjee’s help as one which has only multiplied the woes of the common man; rampaging inflation, growing unemployment, massive corruption. The BJP, which was trying to pose itself as an alternative, had the same economic policies. Modi’s Gujarat model, he said, was but a euphemism for large scale ‘loot’ by big corporations, Indian and MNC. Modi stands for ensuring supernormal profits for these companies and will complete the full measure of neo-liberal economic policy. That apart, Karat reminded the people of BJP’s communal agenda and Modi’s active role in the 2002 genocide. The party is therefore working towards creating a non-Cong and non-BJP alternative that will govern the country on an ‘alternative policy’ trajectory. He informed the people of Bengal of the initiative taken by the CPI(M) and the Left parties to bring together non-Congress, non-B J P secular parties. He announced that these parties will meet soon and announce the political programme before the Lok Sabha elections.

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said that the Mamata government was insulting the youth of the state, not only increasing unemployment by virtual shut down of industrial development, but being dishonest in advertising creation of new jobs, a trickle actually, like the contractual policemen, which paid less than minimum wage or exhorting them to work for fraudulent companies such as Sharada etc.  He accused her of playing with the lives of the Bengali people. He said all work, be it industry or agricultural had come to a standstill. He termed the government as shameless; wasting people’s money for promoting her own face in government sponsored advertisements at an unprecedented scale, every possible media vehicle, every day. He blasted the CM for having a tacit understanding with the communal BJP and exposed Modi’s governance claims. He reminded the people that Gujarat, unlike Bengal, had no record of land reforms and no people’s representation at the grassroots level. It was backward in mass education. He said that the people of Bengal would never accept ‘two laddoos of Modi-Mamata coalition’ that BJP PM hopefully offered.

Left Front chairman and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Biman Bose, reminded the gathering of the promises made by the TMC before the 2009 Loksabha polls and 2011 assembly polls, which were now proved as hollow. All that the CM was interested in was hosting ‘festivals’ at the cost of keeping crores of stomachs hungry. The government and the ruling party were encouraging the growth of anarchy and divisive forces. It was trying to break the unity of the poor and toiling masses, every dissenting voice is being muffled. He urged the people of Bengal to recognise the true face of this ‘dishonest’ political force, which has taken 145 lives of Left workers and leaders so far. She had allowed her ‘naughty’ boys to attack women savagely, with the most heinous cases of rape and murder becoming common place in the state. It was a shame for all Bengalis that the most modern, cultured and safe society of Bengal is now a leader in the country today in atrocities against women. Basu called for resistance to terror with courage.

The leader of the opposition and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Surjyakanta Mishra, electrified the gathering with his warning to the CM to use her ‘eyes & ears’ to listen to the protests of the people of Bengal. He castigated her for the complete lack of democracy in her party, her voice being the only one. As he delivered the charge sheet against the TMC government, the massive crowd roared in approval. He dubbed the government as totalitarian, anti-people, anti-development and corrupt. He exposed the massive growth of per capita debt of Bengal after this party came to power. Rs 55,000 crore had been added in just 30 months. Bengal had gone from being the 13th in per capita debt to being the No.1 in the country. He charged that the CM had bankrupted the state by her ad hoc expenses, most of it on festivals across the state, throughout the year. The new administrative calendar was more of a festival itinerary, having planned 60 in the coming year, one a week. He thundered that the people would no longer allow her to loot the votes like she had done during the panchayat and municipal polls, they would fight back. 

Other speakers at the rally included Hafiz Alam Sairani of Forward Bloc, Kshiti Goswami of RSP, Manjukumar Majumdar of CPI, Ratan Mazumdar of DSP, Janmejaya Ojha of SP, Mihir Bain of RCPI, Pratim Chatterjee of MFB, Umesh Choudhury of BBC, Shivnath Sinha of Workers party, Samar Bardhan of Bolshevik party.

The mammoth rally roared in one voice as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said, ‘the voices of the toiling masses of Bengal cannot be stopped; the Red Flag can never be forced to surrender’.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Nandigram Myths Decoded: CBI Calls the Bluff

By Nilotpal Basu

HISTORY is cruel; in its own way, it squares up the truth. Seven years back, a rural tract in West Bengal – Nandigram – shot to prominence.  It resonated across the country. The cyber world took it beyond the national boundary and drew international attention. Political observers attributed electoral nemesis of the three decade electoral sway of the Left to the developments in Nandigram.  Nandigram was seen as the ‘diabolical’ anti-peasant face of the Left in Bengal. And overall, it contributed to undermine the credibility of the Indian Left.

What was the background of the unfortunate developments that unfolded in Nandigram in the early days of 2007?  The government of West Bengal in its attempt to industrialize the state had zeroed in on the Petroleum Investment Region scheme mooted by the central government; taking advantage of incentives of the scheme to facilitate the petroleum investment hub where Nandigram would be the core. The requirement for the scheme was a large amount of land.  The locational advantage of Nandigram was its proximity to port city Haldia and existing oil refinery and petro-chemical complex. These existing facilities provided important infrastructure to locate the petroleum investment zone. That agricultural land in Nandigram suffered from salinity, forcing people to migrate for work was another factor which weighed in favour of developing industrial activities in the region.

However, the decision of Left Front government did not find major support from the people. A major factor which affected the mood of the people was the lack of communication. The comprehensive consultative exercise which ought to have helped galvanise popular opinion for industrial activity failed to fructify. And this communication deficit was compounded by a tendentious propaganda blitz by the opposition. A rainbow coalition emerged to oppose acquisition of land for the project.

Taking advantage of the uncertainty that emerged, the broad platform virtually took physical control over the proposed project land. The platform took to violence; digging up roads and blowing up bridges, the entire area went out of the writ of the state government. The law and order situation became captive to these forces. Several killings ensured that discourse on the industrialization agenda could not reach the people. Discussion and debate towards any informed conclusion was the casualty.  


It was a catch-22 situation for the state government. Given the broad opposition to the project and the related issue of land acquisition, it became clear that without concurrence of people, it was impossible to go ahead with the project; notwithstanding its importance in the overall context of the industrialization agenda. Thus, between January and March 2007, atmosphere of uncertainty and anarchy prevailed in the area.  In February itself, the state government and the chief minister announced that there will be no land acquisition against wishes of the people.  But despite that, the opposition was unrelenting and carried on their violent and lawless ways making the area incommunicado to the state government. The state government was found helpless in ensuring the right of the entrapped citizens. 

And, this was the backdrop of 14th March 2007. A police party which entered the area to restore communication to re-establish rule of law was confronted with. The consequent unfortunate police firing and related incidents resulted in the loss of 14 persons; widespread condemnation against ‘forcible acquisition’ followed.

Nandigram became the symbol around which opposition to the Left government galvanized.  From Maoists on the Left to communal forces of all hues on the Right combined. With TMC spearheading the opposition, its supremo and present chief minister Mamata Banerjee shot into national fame. She became the icon of the anti-Left forces not only nationally but also internationally. Those who were pathologically opposed to the Left catapulted her to lead against hitherto electorally invincible Left; so much so, that she featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Ironically, the Left in India, which had been in the forefront of the struggle for agrarian reforms and land redistribution, was shown as having betrayed that legacy. The overall neo-liberal policy environment featuring large-scale takeover of agricultural land by corporate sharks came to be equated with what happened in Nandigram on the 14th of March.

Of course, there have been several reasons which led to the setback of the Left in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and assembly elections in 2011; but Nandigram was widely seen as the trigger which set out the course for undermining the credibility of the Left. 

Much as they attempted to explain their approach, the Left failed in getting its message across. Even before the Left Front government could order any independent probe into the firing on 14th March, the Kolkata High Court, at the insistence of the opposition, ordered a CBI probe.


Finally, the propaganda blitz that led to institution of CBI probe has come full circle. On 18th December 2013, the CBI, after almost seven years of investigation, filed a chargesheet before the court.  The findings could not be any greater indictment of the then opposition led by TMC and its mercurial leader Mamata Banerjee. The CBI findings completely vindicate what the Left government had contended at that point of time.

The CBI chargesheet reveals – “Investigation has disclosed that efforts were made by the district administration and the police officers to normalize the situation in Nandigram. Many meetings were organized between the administration, leaders of the opposition parties and BUPC”; Bhumi Uchhhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) being the umbrella organisation spearheaded by the TMC which led the agitation in Nandigram. But, the CBI has now opined that –“However, there was no visible improvement in the law and order situation which remained out of control for the District Civil and Police administration”.

Detailing about how bad the situation was between January and March, 2007, the chargesheet states -“During this period at least 56 FIRs were registered at Nandigram and Khejuri police stations relating to violence, arson, loot and murder etc. The period also witnessed death of 11 persons and injuries to at least 25 persons due to these clashes. A police Sub Inspector namely Sadhu Charan Chatterjee was kidnapped and killed by the mob, police jeeps were burnt and police weapons were looted. The cases registered could not be investigated by the local police as the local police were unable to enter into the villages during this period”.

The chargesheet comprehensively calls the bluff that the police entry was ‘clandestine’. The chargesheet categorically states that - “On 12.03.2007, the state home secretary briefed the press, in which he informed them about the proposed police action in Nandigram”. Subsequently, “it was decided that the police operation would be conducted on 14.03.2007 at three places in Nandigram”.

The firing was ‘after all attempts to disperse the crowd’ who blocked the police entry through requests over PA system, lathicharge, firing of tear gas and firing in the air ‘failed’.

The chargesheet also nails down the claim that there were hundreds of people killed, with gory charges of children and women being torn apart and their bodies smuggled out. The chargesheet categorically points out that ‘opposition consciously spread rumours’ and ‘organised armed men’ to take on police which led to the unfortunate firing.  As if to add salt to injury, the CBI rejected the plea of the TMC that the political leadership of the Left was responsible.  In fact, despite these findings, the current state government and the chief minister has refused to allow CBI to proceed against police and civil officials whom they found to violate some procedures, insisting that Left leadership must be investigated.

The CBI is no ‘holy cow’. Neither has it done anything spectacular to erase the impression that it is not insulated from political interference having earned the description of ‘caged parrot’.  But, TMC and Ms Banerjee have forgotten that for almost six and a half years during which the CBI was carrying out its investigation, it was they who were in company with the ruling Congress – both in the state and the centre.  The state government had every opportunity to inform CBI towards an ‘informed conclusion’ in course of last almost three years; not to forget that this CBI investigation on firing in Nandigram was essentially at their own behest. 

Therefore, it is an irony that truth has finally come through the CBI chargesheet. Those who had chronicled contemporary events during that period will hopefully revisit conclusions that they had drawn on Nandigram – and, more importantly, on the Left and its intentions.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


India’s Communist Rally for 2014: A Primer for the Indian Elections

In March, 788 million Indians will be eligible to cast their ballots in the general election. For the 15h Lok Sabha (Parliament) elections in 2009, about half the eligible voters went to the polls, which means that almost four hundred million people might vote for the 543 parliamentary seats this year. They will be able to vote for one of two major alliances or the regional and Left parties who form the third pole in the Indian polity.
India’s Three Blocs.
The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is led by the Congress Party, founded in 1885. The UPA has been in power since 2004. It is a center-right alliance, oscillating between a firm commitment to neo-liberal economic policy and a mild form of social welfare. Neo-liberalism’s agenda includes privatization, which means that the government has been the auctioneer of important state assets – it was in this role that the UPA mired itself in a quicksand of corruption scandals. Garroted by the Gandhi family (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi), the Congress as the leading force in the UPA has tried to emphasize its social welfare schemes to no avail. Its leader, Rahul Gandhi, is personable but vacuous.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), founded in 1980, leads the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It is a right-wing alliance that is driven entirely by the politics of the BJP, itself the political arm of India’s fascist sector. Aware that its genuine politics of hatred for anyone who is not an upper caste Hindu will not work in India’s diverse soil, the BJP has attempted to put itself forward as incorruptible and the better party to preach the gospel of the free market. Its standard-bearer, Narendra Modi, carries with him a bilious record as chief minister of Gujarat. He says that Gujarat is a model for development, which is of course correct if “Gujarat” simply refers to its capitalist class; others have not fared well at all. Modi is also aware that his own background – as the cheerleader for the 1999 anti-Christian pogrom in Dangs and the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom across the state – is a liability; he would prefer to talk about higher education and jobs, although every once in a while the smile drops and the viciousness is evident. An explosive article in Caravan by Leena Gita Reghunath implicates Modi in the career of Swami Aseemananda, the mastermind of the 2006-08 bomb blasts in India. Modi’s supporters are deaf to this record, to their own peril.
The third bloc comprises the regional parties and the Left Front. To win a majority in the parliament one of the blocs must win 272 seats. In the last election, the Congress alone got 203 seats and the BJP won 117 seats. It is very unlikely for either of these parties to get the 272 seats by themselves. They must draw in the regional parties into their alliances. Each season the regional parties play hard to get, jockeying for the greatest spoils before they commit to one or the other bloc. These regional parties typically have little problem with neo-liberal policy but they are not as keen on the BJP’s fascism. It is what has saved the lackadaisical Congress. This year, a group of regional parties will once more try to form a Third Front, which will be backed by the Left Front. Three parties from northern India have formed an alliance, as the Left Front ties up with one party from southern India. Everything is in flux. A new regional party – the Aam Aadmi Party – made a spectacular electoral gain in Delhi. It is an anti-corruption populist force that wishes to enter the parliamentary elections in other states. It is not clear how they will do.
Left Front Rally, February 9, Kolkata, Debasish Chakraborty.
Left Front Rally, February 9, Kolkata, Debasish Chakraborty.
The Left Front.
If there is to be a Third Front, its backbone will be the Left Front. The Left in India can be found in struggles across the country – from the fight against Khap Panchayats in Haryana to the anti-caste fight for temple entry in Tamil Nadu (for a good introduction, see Elisabeth Armstrong’s Gender and Neoliberalism: The All India Democratic Women’s Association and Globalization Politics, 2013). But electorally, the Left Front makes an impact in only three states – Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal. In the last election, in 2009, the Left Front suffered a decisive defeat, winning only 25 seats (down from 58). The reasons for this defeat are complex. In West Bengal, they were clearest. The Left had governed here since 1977, and had over the thirty-four years picked up the habits of power despite periodic attempts at “rectification.” Two major setbacks occurred for the Left over its industrial and land acquisition policy. An attempt to set up an auto factory in Singur backfired when the Left failed to build the consent of all those whose land needed to be procured. The disaster of Singur was built upon by the entire opposition in rural Nandigram. Claiming that there was a land acquisition notice, an alliance of the armed Maoists and the current ruling Trinamul Congress Party (TMC) seized the area and barricaded it against state officials. The police entered Nandigram, killing 14 people in the bargain. At that time, the Left Front was blamed for the police firing. A Central Bureau of Investigation report now shows that the government was not implicated in the shooting. Nonetheless, Singur and Nandigram sunk the Left in the elections.
Once in power in West Bengal from 2011, the TMC ruled with an iron hand. Between May 2011 and mid-January 2014, its people killed 139 cadres of the Left Front’s main constituent, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Most recently, on February 6, eight TMC men in Howrah kidnapped and raped two women (ages 27 and 43) for being members of the CPI-M. “You have to join the Trinamul,” they apparently told the women. “We have been telling you to do so for some time, but you have been ignoring us.” One of the women recalled that they were told not to go to the February 9 mass rally called by the Left Front in Kolkata. The TMC’s leader, Mamata Banerjee, has been tone deaf to this incident, and to the epidemic of violence against women in the state. There has been a 60 per cent increase in rape in the state since 2011, when the TMC took power (according to the National Crime Records Bureau). This is twice the jump in national statistics.
Despite the intimidation of the TMC, over a million women and men gathered in Kolkata’s Brigade Ground on February 9 for an enormous show of strength of the Left Front. This has been the largest rally of the election season. Former Chief Minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, said that this has been the biggest rally he has ever seen. Party members of the four constituent parties of the Left Front joined sympathizers – they stood side by side with those who were simply fed up with the TMC. Reports of violent attacks against those who came to the rally began to come in as soon as the rally ended.
A Policy Alternative.
The Left expects to do better in West Bengal than it did in the parliamentary elections of 2009 and the state elections in 2011. If the Left Front is able to win more than the 15 (out of 42) parliamentary seats that it won in 2009, it will be able to leverage those numbers toward a progressive Third Front. Or at least hold the balance in a fractured parliament.
The Left has indicated that it is not interested simply in an alternative front in Parliament. The point is to push for a shift in the policy trajectory. In an editorial for People’s Democracy, the CPI-M leadership elaborated on this distinction,
“The Indian people, if they want to change the situation for the better, will have to use this opportunity provided by the general elections to bring about a political alternative that is capable of implementing alternative policies. An alternative policy trajectory that ensures universal rights and not entitlements to food security; free health care; universal free education; right to employment or adequate unemployment allowance; and universal schemes for the care of the elderly and differently abled, at least, must form the core of such an alternative. This trajectory is preferable not only in humanitarian terms but makes eminent economic sense as well. By thus empowering the people, their purchasing power will substantially increase generating the much-needed additional aggregate domestic demand which, in turn, will provide the impetus for manufacturing growth and, hence, employment. This would set in chain a motion of sustainable and more equitable growth trajectory. That there are resources to sustain such a strategy is obvious if the humongous corruption scams are prevented and the massive tax concessions to the rich are instead used for public investments to build our much-needed infrastructure generating substantial new employment. What the country needs is a political alternative that can put in place such an alternative policy trajectory.”
There is little expectation that the current political calculus can produce such a clear policy shift, but if the Left were able to increase its electoral strength it would be able to push as hard as possible in this direction. Anything less than this would be ruinous for the Indian people.
Vijay Prashad’s latest book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013).